Palestinian rights and civil liberties groups are mobilizing fast to halt an anti-boycott bill coming up for a vote in the New York State Assembly–the companion bill to Senate legislation passed last week.
The legislation prohibits state aid from going to academic groups that support boycotting Israel. It targets the American Studies Association, as well as the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association and the Association for Asian American Studies, which have all voted to endorse the boycott of Israel. And its impact will fall on those who receive money from their institutions to travel to the academic conventions organized by those groups.
Despite it being decried as unconstitutional, the legislation is moving forward. On Monday, the New York State Assembly’s Higher Education Committee is set to discuss the anti-boycott bill, according to activists. Eight of the committee members–including the chair, Deborah Glick–are sponsoring the bill, meaning that only six more are needed for a majority. If they vote to approve it, it will go to the full Assembly, where it has the support of at least 48 members. The speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, authored the bill. Activists are trying to defeat the bill.
“The reality is that this legislation is a direct assault on our First Amendment right to freely and openly speak our minds in opposition to the policies of any government, including the Israeli government,” an action alert I received from activists reads.
Groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (in New York) and Jewish Voice for Peace are encouraging people, especially New Yorkers, to contact members of the Higher Education Committee as well as other Assembly members to express opposition to the bill.
Meanwhile, the American Studies Association President, Curtis Marez, criticized the legislation as trying to “turn the clock backwards in terms of civil liberties, while once again displacing the question of human rights for Palestinians.” And the Center for Constitutional Rights and the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild have sent a letter to New York Assembly members opposing the bill.
The letter, citing various court decisions that ruled that boycotts are protected speech, warns that the bill is unconstitutional and would spark a “legal challenge in order to protect the right of any individual or organization to engage in speech activities such as boycotts intended to effect social, political and economic change.”